Stephen King wrote a story about kids finding a body. In Stephen King world, every fifth and sixth grader cursed like sailors. For some people out there, Stephen King's interpretation of childhood swearing is accurate. For me, I was a good child who had warm milk before bed probably up to eighth grade. Keep this in mind. R.
DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner
There are certain movies that you need to watch at a certain age. I first watched The Breakfast Club towards the end of college and it did nothing for me. I don't deny that there is probably value in The Breakfast Club and that I'm not the target demographic for The Breakfast Club, but I had no way to relate to those characters any more. The kids in high school didn't seem realistic and I only knew that because I had finished high school and had almost finished college. Stand by Me fell into the cracks of "Movies I should have seen earlier, but somehow didn't." I can't say that Stand by Me didn't affect me as much as a disappointing viewing of The Breakfast Club did, but I also never really help it as sacred. Keep this all in mind when I tend to get harsh with the movie.
My buddy, Jim, really loves this movie. His favorite trope of all times are eighties kids in trouble and on an adventure. This movie was made in '86, but is set in the '50s. (I looked it up. 1959.) As such, it really goes out of its way with the late fifties nostalgia. I swear, it must have been a special time that only had five songs because these are the songs that show up in everything. Yes, the music was awesome. The clothes and the cars were rad. But this is an idealized version of the '50s again. Reiner and King must have had some great times back then because this is the version of America that I refuse to believe existed as portrayed. I like the idealized '50s, but I also know that the world was going through some terrible things that tend to get glossed over in movies like this. Again, I'm not asking the world to get bummed out every time we think of the '50s, but I would like a little more context than the utopia presented in these films time and time again. As part of that, we are meant to fall in love with the chemistry of these kids. There's a good reason for that and I don't envy what Reiner had to do to make this movie a classic. The boys have to establish a bond pretty quickly. (Oh my gosh, is there a girls' version of this movie? I don't think there is! The Goonies, Stranger Things, The Bad News Bears, Stand by Me, Super 8. Most of them are dudes with the inclusion of one girl. Stand by Me doesn't even include the girl!) They joke around and sing songs, but it kind of feels fake to me. It feels like an adult writing what childhood was like without hanging around with actual kids. They have this memory of things that were done, but the bonding seems really forced in this movie. It does work, eventually, but I thought there were moments that were trying to push this relationship a bit too hard a bit too fast. And I totally get why. SPOILER: River Pheonix needs to develop a relationship and dynamic with Wil Wheaton (I refuse to use their last names right now). That scene is completely dependent on establishing that these characters have this intimate trust. But getting there is tough. I think that's why Stranger Things works better. The characters have time to build to a sense of trust. But The Goonies has the same moments. Admittedly, The Goonies really isn't that deep like Stand by Me is, but I believe those kids more than I do the Stand by Me. But that could come from two things again. I grew up on The Goonies. I was their target market. I probably modeled my behavior after The Goonies. (I may have known better than to lie to Hispanic ladies about where the drugs and cockroaches were hidden in our house.) But I think a lot of the issues with the bonding in the first film come from also spending so much time writing a love letter to the '50s. There's a part where the kids are singing the theme to "Have Gun, Will Travel." That's fun, but they are singing it so enthusiastically that it just feels fake. These moments are traits that we give to kids younger than this moment. They are celebrating the end of summer before going to junior high. There are also turns in the movie that seem to be very dramatic that don't really make a ton of sense. I know that Corey Feldman's character's dad was an abusive man, but there's this heightened tension with Feldman jumping out from a train. Phoenix tackles him out of the way and there's a big hullaballoo. I get what is trying to happen in this scene, but it seems like it is more of a story beat than it is a genuine moment.
The movie does turn for the better starting with the suspension bridge sequence. The exposition being over, the story really starts to take off. This is where I start to like the movie. There is so much that is trying to get me to like these characters that , when I'm finally there, the story works. Again, I never hated the film as a whole, but just in parts. There main plot of actively searching for the body and discovering that this is more a journey of self-discovery is very cool. In an odd way, it is a bit Lord of the Rings-y that way. I'm not saying the second half is perfect, though. The way that it works best is the focus on the group splintering. Starting with the leeches, the group starts to fall apart and the movie almost embraces Stephen King's strengths. (I don't think he wrote the dialogue, but golly if it didn't sound like him. King can't write really good comedy to save his life.) But his strengths are making moments of tension truly painful. The violence gets bigger and scarier. When King tries writing reality, it always falls short. It's when he's writing the world spiraling out of control that the movie works. The final sequence with Kiefer Sutherland is fantastic because it takes it to a level that, as an audience member, I wasn't ready for. That is the best sequence in the film, but it also doesn't pay off as much as it should. Sutherland promises that the boys will pay for the events that happened there, but they didn't. I don't mind stating that these moments are composed of bluster, but even that bluster needs to be paid off. Perhaps a montage of all the times that Sutherland almost did something, but didn't. This leads into one of the most fourth-wall breaking problems I have with the film.
If you haven't noticed, I've been crushing the works of Stephen King lately. Some of this is intentional. Some of the things just floated my way. (Pun intended.) But King is obsessed with including authors in his stories. I get it, Stephen King, write what you know. But everyone knows you are an author and nothing else. (You were a high school English teacher for a year. You also have that noble profession show up far too often.) Having the story bookended and narrated by an author who is pretty much you keeps pulling me out. I don't know when I got so skittish about the narrator pushing the plot along in film. Adding to the fact that the movie is a whole heap of nostalgia, I can't help but compare the movie to that Wonder Years nostalgia that runs through it. I would love if Rob Reiner was self-aware and self-critical enough to know that the '50s weren't really like that, so the inclusion of a narrator reflecting on his idealized memories would have been genius. Alas, I think this might have just been happenstance. This also makes the final bookending all the more awkward. There needed to be resolution for Wil Wheaton's character, knowing that he would one day be graced by aging into Richard Dreyfuss. But the sequence is cringeworthy to a certain extent. Showing him wrestling his kids seemed tonally off and a shift from what the story was telling initially. Also, that dated word processor was hilarious.
I don't begrudge anyone liking this movie. Overall, I have to say that I liked it too. But this movie really plays on the nostalgia card too hard. It is meant to evoke experiences of childhood and I didn't believe a lot of them. I'm sure I would say the same thing about some of my favorite movies as well, but I was the right age to watch them. Like many of my reviews, I can chalk this one up to the fact that it probably just wasn't for me.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.